Becky: So Warren, it's very early in the morning before the first morning. How many people do you actually expect this year?
Buffett: I'm quite sure we'll top 30,000. How much beyond that, I don't know.
Becky: Why do you think there are so many people this year?
Buffett: Well, it seems to grow every year. So I like to think if we give them a good time this year, a lot of them will be back next year. The word spreads and they get to buy things at discounts at our stores. For one reason or another, they like it.
Becky: You've mentioned that there are two kinds of shareholders that you have here. Which kinds are your favorite kinds?
Buffett: Well, the truth is I like the people that just believe in me. That's hard to resist. So I've got all these people that really understand Berkshire, maybe better than I do, and they read the reports carefully and they're analysts and they know all the jargon. And then there's a huge group that just say, you know, 'I'm gonna go with him for my life.' And it's hard not to be attracted to the latter group particularly.
Becky: Do you get to see a lot of those people this week, while they're here?
Buffett: I get to see quite a few of them, yeah, we'll be milling around here on this floor, pretty much for an hour and a half, and I get to say hi to a lot of people.
Becky: This year you just announced the deal with Wrigley and Mars. Two years ago at this meeting, you announced the Iscar deal. Do you like to have a deal as you go into these meetings to talk about?
Buffett: I like to have a deal anytime, Becky. (Laughs.) But sure, it's a lot of fun if I can pop something out at the meeting. But, I'm willing to work in the off-season, too.
Becky: We have Wrigley/Mars. We saw their scene setting up. Is that going to be a surprise to kinda catch people off-guard?
Buffett: Yeah, it was a surprise to me, because they got that out here in just a day or two. You know we only made the deal less than a week ago, I guess. But they jumped right on it. Bill Wrigley's here and heard from the Mars people. They jumped right in.
Becky: You know, you spent six-and-a-half billion dollars on that deal alone. But you still have a lot of cash on the balance sheet ...
Buffett: Right ...
Becky: ... that you can put to work. How much cash do you have?
Buffett: Well, it's a little hard to measure at any given day. But we still have 35 billion anyway. But we have the six-and-a-half billion committed. So, we actually have more than that, but the six-and-a-half billion I've got earmarked for that, and then we still have probably 35 billion after that. There's some cash. Cash is shown at several different places in our balance sheet, so the total would leave us with at least 35.
Becky: Are you still on the prowl? Still looking around?
Buffett: I'm always on the prowl. (Laughs.)
Becky: Anything we should be expecting today?
Buffett: No, I wish there were. No, I wish there were. But I tried for CNBC, and the answer was no. (Laughs.)
Becky: Couldn't afford us, I guess.
Buffett: That's right.
Becky: We've been hearing from Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Attorney General. He's talking about how he's looking into whether it's a conflict of interestthat Berkshire owns a stake in Moody's and yet is rated triple-A by Moody's. Do you think it's a conflict of interest?
Buffett: Well, A, they rated Berkshire triple-A long before we owned any Moody's stock. We're rated triple-A by Standard & Poor's. We're rated triple-A by Fitch. I'm talking about the overall corporate ratings. And you know, I've never entered in the rating process. They only come out and grill me once a year. So I don't think there's much there.
Becky: Is there an inherent conflict with the rating process anyway? Companies pay to be rated.
Buffett: They pay to be rated, and you have to count on Moody's and Standard & Poor's and Fitch's to retain their independence. But they pay to put ads on CNBC. (Laughter.)
Becky: This is true. This is true. Do you think it's just something that's not worth looking into or are you just ...?
Buffett: Well, I think he's, he may be looking into even broader aspects of the whole rating process.
Becky: He is.
Buffett: .. And certainly the public has a right. It makes a lot of sense to be looking at how ratings have been put together because ratings, in a certain sense, have failed in the last six months in the mortgage market. The ratings, the rating agencies will tell you that that's not quite their obligation to do that, but people rely on ratings and they have seen a lot of triple-As disappear, and there's nothing wrong with looking into what went wrong.
Becky: There's always a side show that takes place at the actual big show. This is the big show. There's always a side show, though. This year the biggest one has to be what's going on with Yahoo and Microsoft. You have Bill Gates, (Yahoo President) Susan Decker, and Ron Olson (an outside legal adviser to Yahoo's independent directors) who are all here. (All three are members of Berkshire's board.) Have any of them talked to you about that being an uncomfortable situation?
Buffett: No, I don't talk to them about it at all. I think that's the best thing to do. And I'm not sure Ron and Sue have gotten in yet. I hope they have. Bill was here yesterday. But Ron and Sue let me know they weren't going to be able to make it at a normal time and we'll see whether they're here today. I don't know what's going on there and, I don't ask questions about those companies. I don't think it's smart.
Becky: Probably a wise idea to stay out of it. But you haven't heard anything one way or another and these are all just your directors?
Buffett: No, I haven't heard a thing. I haven't heard a thing. The only thing I heard is they wouldn't be in at the time we were expecting them to be.
Becky: You have any surprises up your sleeve that you want to tell us about?
Buffett: I wish I had a surprise or two. I might even tell you if I had one (laughs) but I don't have anything at the moment. The nice thing about my business, is that Monday morning the phone may ring. And it rang a few weeks ago and it's six-and-a-half billion, and 2 companies I've admired for decades and people, nice people. It just, things come out of the woodwork.
Becky: What do you hope most to gain or accomplish, or what do you look forward to most during the meeting?
Buffett: I look forward to people feeling like they own part of a business. I mean, so many people that buy stocks buy 'em to sell it next month or because it's going to split, or they hope there's an earnings surprise that's favorable. And they're in what I call the 'rent-a-stock' business. And we've got the 'own-a-stock' owners here and I love it that people come and participate and really feel part of the show. They feel like our partners and they are our partners.
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